Feelings around the league are that serious progress could be made this week in lockout negotiations. The players’ union and the owners are expected to meet multiple times, which sounds great, but I’ll hold off on my applause until there is a date set for pitchers and catchers to report to camp.
This is the second part of a series where I will discuss the biggest remaining offseason question marks for the Braves. In the last piece, we talked about Brian Snitker‘s options to round out the rotation. Part two will revolve around one of the most important positions on the diamond — centerfield.
Potential Centerfield Options on the Current 40-Man
Even if Ronald Acuña Jr. is healthy for Opening Day, that doesn’t mean the question is put to bed. The Braves will be extremely cautious with him, so there’s a high possibility that they don’t feel comfortable slotting him in centerfield — at least not in 2022. I expect Acuña to be used in center, but only in spots when it’s absolutely necessary.
Duvall’s the dark horse in this race. He might not be the first person that comes to mind when thinking of centerfielders, but he manned the position just fine for the Braves in the postseason and just won a Gold Glove. If the Braves have to ride with him for most of the season in centerfield, I think they’d be just fine, even if it’s not the ideal scenario.
I included Cristian Pache and Drew Waters because they are on the 40-man and can play centerfield, but I highly doubt either begin the season in the majors. They both need more time to develop in AAA before receiving the call. One of them would have to look unstoppable in Spring Training for them to earn a shot, and even that likely wouldn’t be enough. Heredia is another option on the 40-man that could play some center in a pinch, but there’s no way he should be in the starting lineup on Opening Day unless the Braves suffer a slew of injuries.
On the free agent front, there aren’t many centerfield options that should intrigue the Braves. However, there are a couple of trade targets that could shake up the landscape of the National League. The one most fans should be familiar with is Bryan Reynolds. The 2021 All-Star hit .302 with 24 homers, leading to a .912 OPS. The 6.0 WAR he accumulated would have been the most of any Braves player last season. It was reported that the Braves made a real run at him at last year’s trade deadline but were unwilling to meet the Pirates’ lofty asking price. Given his team-friendly price tag, it would still take a king’s ransom for the Braves to land Reynolds, but he fits the timeline of their championship window perfectly.
Another marquee name to keep an eye out for is Cedric Mullins. Mullins broke out for the Orioles last season, mashing 30 bombs and stealing 30 bases. With Baltimore years away from competing in the American League, they may choose to sell high on the versatile outfielder. However, like Reynolds, Mullins has plenty of control left — four years, to be exact — the Orioles are in no rush to deal him.
While a trade would give the Braves the best team possible, I’m not sure they will find one that’s worth it. None of their current options are perfect fits, but it’s the group I expect them to go into the season with. I do think Anthopoulos will add another outfielder through free agency, but I don’t think it will be centerfielder. The guy that will start there on Opening Day is on the roster, and I believe it will be Adam Duvall.